These opportunities exist for the use of human waste in textile production

In their search for more sustainable alternatives to textile production, innovators have stumbled upon numerous creative ways to tackle the problem – some of which are somewhat surprising.

Human waste was a common topic among the exhibitors at Material District, which returned to Utrecht after a two-year hiatus due to a pandemic and lasted three days, from April 5-7. Between the stands of elaborate producers and established companies, a host of innovators presented their concepts, many still in the development phase, with a special focus on human-generated waste – something that already exists and does not require new materials.

Many times, many cringe at the thought of using human waste in the manufacturing process, as it can sometimes sound unconventional, oddly unnatural, or just plain disturbing. But given some explanation, human waste can in fact be a valid alternative to the production of new textiles, as it is often easy to obtain and it offers a range of benefits that don’t require much else to work.

Image: Human Material Loop

“Waste is just raw material in the wrong place…”

A particularly surprising innovation was the use of human hair in the production of clothing, a concept developed by Zsofia Kollar, the founder of the Human Material Loop. In a presentation at the event, Kollar explained that there is a great need for eco-friendly materials and wondered why the world often forgoes waste options that already exist. Kollar’s solution was human hair. Through the Human Material Loop, Kollar has integrated hair into a closed-loop recycling system, essentially turning it into a yarn that can be used to manufacture clothing. The idea ensures that the 72 million kilos per year of hair that is thrown away in Europe can be used, according to Kollar.

“The solution is in our heads,” said Kollar during her presentation. “Waste is just raw material in the wrong place.” The innovator said she wondered why we weren’t already using a material like hair, which is already such a prominent part of our lives and also contains the same keratin fiber as wool. She further noted that the product is 100 percent biodegradable, has a nearly zero carbon footprint, and no animals or humans can be harmed in obtaining it.

The event moderator, David Heldt, co-founder of Glue Amsterdam, expressed concern and possible hesitation about the idea, but Kollar, not alarmed, replied: “We are so far removed from the materials we already use. for example, when you look at your wool sweater, have you thought about how that sheep lived, how it was tortured, how much blood was spilled to produce that fluffy sweater. Isn’t it strange that we just forget?”

After the presentation, when FashionUnited asked her if she is regularly challenged about the legitimacy of using hair in production, Kollar said: “Certainly. There is a persuasion phase where people need to learn more about the background to the problems of the textile industry. Once they know these facts, they are quite convinced. They just need some time to digest it. My work is mainly about changing perspectives and challenging the perception of the standards.”

While the concept is still in its early start-up phase, Kollar says she’s currently in talks with several high-end brands to potentially take the material to a commercial level. “We want to convince the high-end brands to show a different perspective first, so that it’s easier to convince the average consumer later,” Kollar said. “People need to see that we are not above but equal to the ecosystem.”

Image: Human Material Loop at MaterialDistrict Utrecht, photo by FashionUnited

Products from the Human Material Loop are currently produced in Italy, but Kollar tells FashionUnited that she plans to make the process available in every country to ensure local production. “We just want to be able to reach as many people as we can.”

Human body as a breeding ground for nature

A similar approach to human waste was taken by Dutch innovator Michelle Baggerman, who works with material designer Jessica den Hartog, as part of Studio Bureau Baggerman. The duo presented at Material District Project Chrysalis, the studio’s idea of ​​​​turning plastic waste into yarn, and although it is currently only considered a product for interior purposes, Baggerman’s idea adds an important element to alternative textile production.

While the use of PET is already quite prominent in recycling processes, HDPE (plastic from shampoo bottles, among others) is something that is seen less often, which prompted Baggerman to investigate its use. Baggerman, who is now in the early stages of development and looking for partners to develop it further, told FashionUnited: “We’re just focusing on the material now – what quality it is and whether we can make it on a larger scale. can make.”

Baggerman, who has worked with plastic for the past five years, said it was important to talk about the use of human waste in textile production because we often don’t think about it as a material, even though it’s something we use every day. . “The future is thinking about what we can do with materials that are already out there, what colors are there and how we can use them,” she said.

While there are currently no plans to implement the material in the fashion industry, probably due to its more rigid consistency, Baggerman’s project does offer an interesting look at circular textile production and the opportunities our waste offers. “If you’re a designer, you have to think about these things,” she added.

Image: Studio Charde Brouwer, photo by Melanie Schaap Model: Lisa Licht

Another surprising idea presented was the concept of using the human body as a way of impacting the environment. Afterlife, a project under development by the Dutch Charde Brouwer, took this idea further with a concept in which our own body becomes a breeding ground for nature. Through her research, Brouwer has found a way to continue to restore the world around us, even after we die, by using biodegradable materials for clothing that can stimulate nature’s growth and help her rebuild.

“What if our last breath could be one of giving back,” said Brouwer at the introduction of the project in a presentation. “After our death, the earth could still use our bodies to feed itself. By combining a material with our body, we can make a beginning of an end.”

Brouwer questioned burying ourselves in polyester and digging up trees to put them back in the ground, a process that is not circular at the moment. The materials produced by Brouwer have a structure that resembles leather, are flexible enough to make a garment and are all colored with natural ingredients from fruit and vegetables.

Brouwer’s idea, which is still in its early stages, is aimed at providing a fully personalized experience, where the final wearer or their family can choose the colors and patterns of the material as well as flower seeds that can be incorporated into the final garment. processed and will grow where the person is buried. Although it is a murky subject, Brouwer believes this method will change the meaning of cemeteries and give new purpose to life after death.

While many concepts around the use of human waste are still in their early stages, it is becoming increasingly clear what opportunities there are for reusing these materials that already exist and that, more often than not, surround us every day. While many of these designers have faced challenges not only in their experiments but also in the reactions of outsiders, they are determined to help change our perspective, in the hope that the industry will finally see no more waste but a material that ready to use.

This article was previously published on FashionUnited UK. Translation and editing by Caitlyn Terra.

Image: Studio Charde Brouwer

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